We love and lay in wait

April 27, 2024

If I die before I wake

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take

I kneel over the bed, clasp my hands together, and squeeze my eyes shut. I talk to the sky, I whisper to it in my head until it becomes a shout from my mouth. I pray for safety, for love, to be held, for my soul to be cherished in life and death — but most importantly, I pray for sleep. And so it comes and goes like a flickering light. I fall asleep as a kid, with my heart to the stars, and I wake up in Paris.

14 Rue Meslay

I was lying on my side in Ellen’s bed — crunched up and trying to take up as little space as possible in the empty room. She was out at class and I was awoken by the sunlight. The French doors were open wide and the breeze was so sharp it slammed the bedroom door shut without reason. I was alone in a new country surrounded by a language I didn't understand. A few weeks ago I didn't have a passport or any concept of jetlag, now I understand why people say not to nap when you get off the plane. The only thing I knew for certain was that I had a bed to sleep in.

I had a friend's arms to fall into and a place to rest my head.

I shoot awake. Only a few days have passed this time. It’s still summer, it's still hot during the day but dips into the 40s at night. The sun sets at 9:40 p.m. and comes up again at 6:12 a.m. I'm up watching it now.

The windows were perpetually open and the air was freezing. Glasses littered the dining room table, the coffee table, the side table, and the bathroom floor from when Gracie dropped one before we went out. The evidence from the night before was as haphazardly discarded as our bodies were. We sprawled out on the couches with our heads buried in cushions and red hair sticking up in every direction.

I’ve only been asleep for a few hours now but it feels like seconds. I look over at Nikki and her crazy hair and bloodied knees next to me on the cushions. The first time I had a conversation with her was 18 hours ago, plopped in the middle of Paris together. I hadn’thaven’t gone a day without talking to her since then. She had flown from London just for the night, with the clothes on her back and a book in her purse that she used to draw in more than read.

In a bit, we would rise after the sun and recount the night spent hopping from café bar to clubs over croissants and French hot chocolate — though she prefers a London fog.

26th Street.

My eyes open and I'm in my apartment with my $5 nightstand from Goodwill holding two glasses of water, two watches, and two week-old flowers I can't get myself to toss out. The alarm hasn’t gone off yet. The puppy and I are in our respective beds.

Eloiza lies next to me. I rarely see her asleep so it shocks me, only for a moment. I always fall asleep first and wake up second. She's peaceful and the crease between her eyes has disappeared. I wonder if she’s dreaming and I decide she isn’t. She looks too calm. Her dreams are often distressing, and bring on on haunting premonitions. Her sister called her Joseph the dreamer, the seer. She hates this comparison. She doesn't want to be responsible for the things she can’t control.

I think it’s fall now but daylight savings time hasn’t happened yet — time hasn’t fallen back — so I sit for a few minutes and watch the highlights on her face spring to life as the day starts.

I don't bother rubbing the sleep sand from my eyes and I settle back down. I hold her close again and she stirs for a moment. I tell her I love her and she echoes me unconsciously. She surely won't remember it, but I don't doubt it to be true. So I take her word for it and pray for many more mornings like this. I pray to not die before I wake with her in my arms. Please, Lord, don’t deny me this one pleasure.

St. Marks Avenue

My eyes could barely stay open. We stayed out all day and now it was nearing 2 a.m. Eloiza was in Paris visiting a friend just as I had visited Ellen. She slept on his twin bed in the dorm and roamed the streets with her guide. My goal most nights was to wish her goodnight when we were getting ready to go out and stay out late enough to tell her good morning before I crashed.

It was our second night in the city — if you could even count Crown Heights as the city. I was too nervous to try my luck sneaking into the Manhattan clubs twice in a row, so I stayed behind in the one bedroom tucked away in the basement of a brownstone.

The night before, we pushed two twin beds together and squeezed five bodies in. Tonight, I lay in the fabric alone. The girls had just left after trying on each other's clothes and leaving lipstick prints on cheeks and foreheads and necks. I bid them farewell and promised to lock the door behind them.

So I turned the deadbolt until it clicked and bounced down the steps. I threw open the fridge and ate a thousand-year egg that I brought back from the restaurant yesterday. I took a sip from the kettle and another one from a discarded wine glass full of red. I surveyed the living room: five makeup bags, two hair dryers, one bottle of tequila, and one bed. I turned the lights out and burrowed under the blankets. I listened to the faint sounds of New York and I fell asleep by myself for the first time in months.

I woke up the next morning surrounded by bodies and smudged makeup. “You’ll never guess where we ended up last night,” Melat said.

On our last day there, we shoved fur coats into bags and sat on suitcases, putting furniture back to its original state. Only then did we realize that we had a pull-out couch the whole time. Oh, well.

Preston Hollow

I sit up and I’m sweating again in my bed in my mother’s home. It’s 5 a.m. and I can't sleep through the night these days. It’s December now and weeks have passed since I crawled over a sea of girls to hang off the edge of the bed in New York. I was alone now in a California king with me and the puppy. A mountain of white sheets and fluffy duvet and she velcros herself right next to me. I understand her deeply.

It’s below freezing and the dripping faucet is the only sound I can focus on. Christmas lights from the lawn still beam through the bedroom window, though the holiday has passed now. I will sleep to come, though I know it won’t last. I will wake up alone again. In the early hours of the morning, after the sun rises and the timer outside extinguishes the lights, I will lay still, waiting for human life to defrost in my house.

So I pull the puppy closer and snuggle in.

I suppose even when I am alone, I still have her to call home.

Layout: Jazmin Hernandez Arceo
Photographer: Kim Nguyen
Videographer: Hermino Mendez
Stylists: Genevieve Hendrie & Andromedra Rovillain
Set Stylist: Evangelina Yang
HMUA: Srikha Chaganti & Audrey Hoff
Models: Nikki Shah & Jake Otto

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